“Oh, c’mon Japan! What did we ever do to you? Oh, right…” –Americans
The most refreshing aspect of the Women’s World Cup is that the syllabic emphasis fell on the final two words: The drama that unfolded, the brilliant level of play throughout the tournament and the final, ensured we weren’t watching the Women’s World Cup. This was the Women’s World Cup.
Japan capped off a thrilling, compelling World Cup final by surviving two one-goal deficits to defeat the U.S. Women’s National Team on penalty kicks. After the U.S. squad took an extra-time lead off — who else? — Abby Wambach’s fourth goal of the tournament, Japanese scoring machine Homare Sawa equalized 117 minutes into the final. The U.S. then failed to convert on its first three penalty kicks, and Japan capitalized its own, bringing the trophy home to Asia for the first time.
The final seemed to be the ultimate lesson in finishing chances. The USWNT dominated the proceedings and could have went into the halftime locker room with a three or four-goal lead. They hit the woodwork, they sent them wide, they sent them over the bar. In the end, Japan hung tough and stood tall, cementing the final chapter in its well-deserved Cinderella story at the World Cup.
Alex Morgan put the USWNT on the board first, running onto a brilliant Steve Nash-esque ball from World Cup hero Megan Rapinoe and converting on a fine finish:
And just in case you missed it, the unexpected star of the World Cup final was this kid:
Japan didn’t earn themselves many chances during the final, but when miscommunication had the USA back line at sixes and sevens, Aya Miyama toe-poked in the equalizer:
Heartbreak City for the United States. But there was so much drama left to unfold. In extra time, Wambach’s fourth goal in the 2011 Women’s World Cup — all from her magnificent dome — gave the USWNT a lead nobody thought they would relinquish. This fantastic clinical header finish was Wambach’s 122nd goal in her 163rd appearance for the USWNT. Remarkable:
As Twitter exploded with premature celebrations (and borderline racism), Sawa stepped up. Now 117 minutes into the match, the USWNT fell asleep on a set piece and Sawa scored:
The USWNT missed its first three chances — two saves by Ayumi Kaihori and a Robert Baggio Special over the bar. Japan converted on two of its first three, with Hope Solo saving one and getting fingertips to the second PK that crossed the line. And then, with a chance to win, Saki Kumagai stepped up:
And the hearts break all over the United States. The Obamas, who sat around watching the final like so many Americans, must have been super-pissed.
What an amazing tournament, an amazing final, and amazing women. So much class.
And with that, you can go back to not caring about soccer until the Euro 2012.